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October 18, 2013

Six Seniors, Six Different Paths

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Friday and Sunday's soccer matches against Northern Colorado and North Dakota will be the final home matches for seniors Alana D'Onofrio, Shawnee Morgan, Jordan Stenger, Elinor Priest, Lauren Weaver and Shelby Foltz. The class has been able to accumulate 27 wins during their time at Northern Arizona and have improved greatly during their four years in Flagstaff.

"These seniors are like six true spokes on a wheel," said head coach Andre Luciano. "As different as they are, they make that wheel spin true and they will always have a special bond coming in together as a class. That is the beauty of athletics where you can bring in different types of people with different backgrounds and make something unique and special, which is what these seniors will have for the rest of their lives."

D'Onofrio, who was the Lumberjacks' captain this season, has had a roller coaster of a career at Northern Arizona. The native of Pleasanton, Calif. came to Flagstaff as a freshman and contributed immediately starting in 17 matches.  After her freshman season, the defender had to her earn way back into the starting lineup and has not looked back since as she has started the last 28 matches for Northern Arizona.

 "I think Alana is the model for what a college career can be like," said Luciano. "She came into a great situation her freshman year with great players around her and then she kind of took her eyes of the prize after her freshman season. It could have gone two ways for Alana and she earned her spot back. She is a captain's captain because she leads by example and everything she does is a reflection of what she is willing to do for this team."

The captain has led the resurgence of the Lumberjacks' defense allowing only 1.06 goals per game.

"I'm not really an emotional person but I think it will be emotional this weekend," said D'Onofrio. "It has not really hit me yet but thinking that Sunday may be my last game at Lumberjack Stadium is pretty sad. I have had a lot of good memories here and that is what I will remember about playing here at NAU."

Priest came to Northern Arizona in 2010 as a transfer from the University of Portland and symbolizes what Luciano wants in a student-athlete.

"Elinor is just a great human being," said Luciano. "It wasn't easy for Elinor coming into this program but she is such a genuine person and she is the quintessential student-athlete. She works so hard at everything and does everything the right way all the time. We are very blessed to have her at our program."

The native of Portland, Ore. will graduate with a double major in English and psychology with a 4.0 GPA.

"I am so grateful for having the opportunity to play at Lumberjack Stadium and be a part of such a great environment and such a great team," said Elinor. "It is going to be emotional because of how happy we are as a group and seeing it come to an end is a little heart breaking."

Stenger has one of the most memorable moments this season as she had a 40-yard goal in the home opener against Lamar. It was Stenger's first career goal at Northern Arizona in her final home opener as a Lumberjack.

"Nothing was ever given to Jordan and she earned every minute and every game she has played in her time at NAU," said Luciano. "She is a player who has filled a variety of roles for us and her growth as a person over these past four years has been unbelievable. She has been such a great fit for our program and good things are coming Jordan's way."

Stenger is the only player in NAU's history to come from the state of Maryland and could not be happier with the group of girls she came to Flagstaff with.

"We are a very dynamic group of girls that has made us closer as a group," said Stenger. "We each have different roles and different strengths but we work well together as a group. These last two home games are going to be an emotional roller coaster ride. It will be really important that we stay focused and not get too high or too low."

Morgan has filled many roles for the Lumberjacks throughout her time in Flagstaff playing as a defender and a forward. She has two career goals at Northern Arizona and has been a great mentor for the underclassmen in the program.

"She is the one player I always see communicating with the freshman and wants to make sure everyone has a fantastic experience," said Luciano. "The great thing about Shawnee is that she is committed to being the best player she can be. She has developed into a terror on the field offensively and she has earned everything due to her hard work and improvement over these past four years."

The native of Escondido, Calif. has brought so much leadership to the Lumberjacks this season and is a part of a senior class that has improved dramatically in its four years at Northern Arizona.

"These girls are definitely the sisters I never had," said Morgan. "We are all so different and bring something different to the table and at first we were not as close and that maybe a reason why we did not have as much success to begin our careers."

"Since then we have grown closer as a class and it will be emotional knowing we will not be playing with each other anymore," said Morgan.

Weaver, NAU's senior goalkeeper has left her mark on Northern Arizona soccer and will go down as one of the best goalies ever at NAU.

"Lauren is very unselfish as a player and as a person," said Luciano. "When she is on her game, she is the best goalkeeper in the Big Sky. Lauren is her biggest critic but she is always open to taking criticism and we have had many talks and not just talking about soccer but just about life. She is a special person and she is going to have an outstanding career outside of soccer because of her personality."

The goalkeeper from Winnetka, Calif. will go down as one of the best goalies in Northern Arizona history with 16 career shutouts, which is second in NAU history.

"Senior day is going to be extremely emotional for me," said Weaver. "I have played soccer for 16 years and now I only have a few weeks left. I am so blessed that I have my family coming out to support me but it's going to be hard for me since my grandfather has passed away and I know he wanted to be here."

The soccer program will also be honoring senior Foltz who has been with the program for four years. Foltz came to NAU to join her sister and former Lumberjack soccer player, Georgia, from Escondido High School where she was a four-year starter and letterwinner. She was named most inspirational player and team captain and despite Foltz suffering a career-ending injury her freshman year at Northern Arizona, the native of Escondido, Calif. remained with the program assisting in various roles at practice and on game day.

"Shelby is a reflection of everything we want in a student-athlete," said Luciano. "Her career ended abruptly and instead of turning that into a negative situation she has been a positive addition to our athletic department."  

Foltz has turned her career-ending injury into a positive, sticking with the soccer program and assisting with academics for NAU Athletics.

"Unfortunately things happen in life that put you in situations you would never expect but in the end better things came out of it," said Foltz. "It means the world to me to still be a part of such an amazing program. I am truly blessed."

These six seniors came to Flagstaff and had to learn the ropes of being a Lumberjack. They may have had some ups and downs throughout their four years at NAU, but they matured into a great group of women that can now call themselves, Jacks for life.